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Epic Emotions, Heroes & Parallels – Writing From The Heart

5 Dec

I have to be honest… I’ve felt a tremendous need for introspection over the past week or so on things that have nothing to do with my writing–probably because I’m going through a lot of changes.  Though, don’t worry, I’ll spare you most of the details.

One thing I do want to say is this: one way some of my most recent experiences are actually related to my writing, however, is that suddenly I feel more connected to my characters–particularly my heroine.

I remember when I was working on the last couple of scenes in Element 7 during my heavy edits, I felt really emotional about them because, in a way, I was going through some of the same things that my MC (main character) was: heart-break, confusion, disappointment…

Those are very potent, less-than-desirable experiences.  Though, perhaps going through these things will only help to make my writing that much more potent.

2012 has been a very dark year for me, actually (and most will never understand just how dark it truly was for me).  And really, it’s only been in the last couple of months that I’ve felt those dark clouds start to roll away.  The future–my future–doesn’t look quite as…well, bleak as it once did before.  I’d lost any sense of purpose in my life, but lately I’ve seemed to find some…

The Drifter, by Jack Vettriano.

The Drifter, by Jack Vettriano.

A Call to Action

I’m sure many writers know that there’s a moment in every epic “Hero’s Journey” story known as the Call to Action (or Adventure).  (This is relevant because Element 7 is, essentially, an nontraditional hero’s journey, folks!)  Typically, this Call occurs closer to the beginning of a story, but…I’m working on a trilogy, and I think my novel actually has two Calls to Action–one near the beginning, and one right at the end.

Why?

Well, there’s got to be something to look forward to in the sequel…right?  (‘Course, gotta leave readers hanging a bit, as well. ;))

Anyway, the reason I’m even bringing this up is because right now I feel like I am facing my own Call to Action (with starting my own interior design business and whatnot)…and, to be honest, it’s a pretty darn scary place to be.  If I chicken out, then I won’t have a “story” to live out and tell to others; if I answer the call…

…Well, I’ll kinda have to change.

Fact is I can’t continue to be the person I currently am if I want to get to where I want to go in life.  I have to move even more out of my comfort zone than I’ve been doing lately.

Baby steps are great, for a while, but sometimes you just have to take a huge freakin’ leap if you want to get to The Next Level.

You know what I’m sayin’?

Personal (Ironic) Parallels Between Fiction & Reality

So when I first started formulating the basic ideas behind Element 7, I was 19.

I’m 24 now.  (Yes, that means it’s been over 5 years since I started working on this thing!)

Ironically, my main character, Voi, is also 24, so I’m just now catching up to her, lol.  Also, ironically, Voi once made the decision to run her own business at a young age.  She’s a bit ahead of me, in some ways, and lately I haven’t just been looking at her as a hero so much as my hero.

Yes, that’s right–I actually look up to a fictional character.

You see, Voi is a lot more outgoing than I am.  She’s not afraid to do something crazy–like drop out of college to pursue her love of flight and become a stunt flyer then later an entrepreneur.  She’s not afraid to make mistakes–or rather, she doesn’t let fear stop her from making them.  Also, she’s a bit of a pioneer.

Most entrepreneurs are, methinks.

The point is I kinda admire that about her, and it’s only been recently that I’ve been able to relate to her so utterly directly.

It’s kinda neat.

So, as I sit here churning out my last edits before beta reading, I feel that I’m at a special point in my life where I can stop writing/editing from the notes and outdated plans and whatnot and just simply write from the heart.

Hmm…yeah, so no prompt this time!

Like I said, I’ve kind of been in an introspective mood, so I don’t really have a prompt for you readers like I usually do at the end, heh.  However, if you have any comments, do feel free to share! 😀

Mass Effect 3

14 Mar

So.

Some of you might know that I’ve been *ehem* neglecting the editing of my novel in order to do a play-through of a game called Mass Effect 3, developed by Bioware (now a division of Electronic Arts).  I’ve been a huge fan of their games since they released Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.  I don’t play a lot of video games, but when I do many times they’re role-playing titles by Bioware.

I love the idea that gamers can make decisions that can compound and actually affect the storyline (and, in this case, even carry over into other games).  Bioware thus far has done an incredible job of exploring the possibilities of this feature in their games, and Mass Effect 3 is no exception.

I’m not really here to do a game review, though.  I just want to point out some of the highlights of my gaming experience with Bioware’s latest title and reflect on some things I can take away from it as a writer.

Mass Effect 3 Is Not Afraid To Explore Dark, Gritty Themes

There were missions in this game that really made me cringe and wonder thoughts like, “How can anyone do that to another human being?”  It took me to places I’d, quite frankly, rather not go (were they real) and affected me on a surprisingly emotional level.  The game portrays humanity not only at its best but also at its absolute worst, particularly when things go terribly awry with certain technological advancements.  It shows a possible future that is staggeringly bleak and forces you to engage it head-on.

There were many a time during the game where things got so depressing that I truly questioned our hero(ine) Commander Shepard’s ability to unite a galaxy and defeat an overwhelmingly powerful enemy.  The foes are mighty and the stakes are insanely high.

No picnics here.

Mass Effect Asks The Tough Questions

Should humans develop artificial intelligence?  Do A.I. have the right to life?  Just what are organics (humans, alien races) really capable of?  What is the purpose of organic life?  How far should we take genetic engineering–or any scientific process, for that matter?  What is the next step in human evolution?

These are just some of the many questions that this game poses to players (very similar to Battlestar Galactica, actually) and asks them to make tough decisions about.

Mass Effect Makes You Care About What Happens To Characters

No small feat.

When I cry three times during one game (I’m not even kidding)…then I think the writers and creators have done something right.

Throughout all the games in the Mass Effect series players are given the option to cultivate relationships (both platonic and romantic) with other characters, and those can continue to grow over time.  In a story about galactic war, it goes without saying that some of the characters players grow to love (or hate) will end up dying–and I, for one, felt it.  The main ones, even some minor characters, all had their own personal stories and reasons for fighting, stories they’re willing to share if only the player takes the time to get to know them.  This made the playing experience all the more personal.

Also, I’m Still Trying To Suss Out What The (apparently controversial) Ending(s) Means

I get the feeling that things aren’t really as they seem to be on the surface… The “ending” (the one I chose, at least) felt very haunting and eerie to me and leaves a lot to the imagination (see here *spoiler alert*), making me suspect there’s more to come.  Whether in DLC (downloadable content) and/or another game, who knows?  Either way, I plan to stick around and find out.

Anyway, What I Took Away As A Speculative Fiction Writer

  1. Be brave in taking players (readers) to places they haven’t gone–not just philosophically or as far as using one’s imagination goes but also emotionally.  It may start in a foreign world/environment with exotic lifeforms but it really happens though characters who ultimately, alien or not, must feel human.  (See #3.)
  2. Ask the “what ifs” and try to provide some answers.  “How would a galaxy full of various alien races fare against a superior sentient machine race hellbent on annihilating and/or repurposing all advanced organic life?”  The Mass Effect series is the answer to that question.
  3. Develop distinct characters who have their own personal motivations.  If people can relate to their plights, then chances are they’ll actually care and the story will have more meaning.
  4. Endings are tough to pull off well; consider them carefully.

And…yeah, I think that about sums it up!

Anyone Else Playing This Game?

If so, what do you think about it?  Or, if you aren’t, have you ever played a game from which you were able to take away some writing lessons or goals to be inspired by?

Discovering The Soul Of Your Story

21 Sep

Yesterday I was reading a post by Madison Woods, in which she muses about the cheesiness of outlines, hehe, and the suspension of disbelief.  But then it got me thinking about something else…

Discovering the Soul of One’s Story

(Or the core themes, I suppose.)

If I had to briefly summarize what my story is about thematically–which I hate doing because, as Madison kind of talked about, this can sound cheesy…I’d have to say it’s about uncovering truths; understanding the relationship between freedom and manipulation; discovering one’s place in the world; and making tough decisions.

Even though a lot of times I’ll use a whimsical, lighthearted voice in the story, there are actually a lot of darker threads running through it.  I think a major influence for this has been playing the Mass Effect series.  One thing I love about the games is that they force you to make some really tough decisions.  The morality of the choices put before you isn’t so black-and-white, which lends the game a fair amount of grittiness.

I wanted the same thing in my story–along with antagonistic forces that were also morally gray and not just 100% pure evil–but also with an air of fun and adventure similar to that found in Joss Whedon’s Serenity or in the movie The Mummy.  (In dieselpunk TV Tropes terms, I could say it starts off more “diesel deco” and ends up “diesel noir”.)

So that’s more the spirit of the story.

Plot- and character-wise, my protagonist, Voi, is seeking a way out of a seemingly hopeless situation, which gets her involved in some darker underground aspects of her world that she never even knew existed.  During this she learns more about herself and her position on the totem pole of life.  She doesn’t like what she learns and tries not to be involved in it at first, but then she realizes that she already is involved and this frustrates her even more.  Eventually, however, she must decide to take a stance and choose a side.

Wait a minute…we’re not all that different, actually.

It’s kind of funny, now that I think about it, because I’m actually in a similar position myself.  For the longest time I’ve been brought up to believe in certain religious truths, but I didn’t entirely understand those truths and what they demanded of me.  Then, when a deeper understanding did come to me…well, the world suddenly seemed a less cheery place to be in.  The concept of “freedom” became blurry, almost an illusion.

So I’ve tried distancing myself from what I’ve been taught to accept, and like my protagonist I realized that I’m already part of it all and there’s really no escaping it.  (Can you tell I’m purposefully being vague here?  I like to do that every now and then.)

So, then, I’m left with a decision: do I continue denying it?  Rebel against it?  Embrace it?

Voi faces the same dilemma in her world.  At certain points she feels manipulated, trapped, in the dark, hopeless, and completely out of her depth.  I think, once I can share the story, others will be able to feel an emotional resonance in it because I share many of the same sentiments as my protagonist.  I’m just writing about them in a different, much more exotic context.  (My story is actually not about religion at all, oddly enough.  Sure, it has religions in it, as many fantasy novels with extensive worldbuilding will, but they are never the focus.)

Voi is older than me in her story, though only by a year now.  (I guess I’m slowly catching up to her, heh.)  It’s not something I’ve done intentionally, but I think her life, though radically different from mine, is actually an allegory to mine, in some ways.  I just never realized that until…well, now.

So maybe I’ve been using this writing experience to help with sorting some things out.  I’m not entirely sure.

<sarcasm> Great, thanks for sharing your life story. </sarcasm>

Sorry, this is kind of me just thinking out loud, so I hope this hasn’t been too useless to you, dear readers.  Are there better places to ponder these things?  Probably, but I needed something to blog about today. 😛

I am prone to analyzing things like this, when certain insights come to me, though I try not to make too much of it.  Voi’s life isn’t mine and vice versa.  Still, maybe I can learn something from this.

When did you discover the heart and soul of your story/stories?

Is this something you typically know coming into a project, or something that seems to reveal itself to you later?  Is it different with every story?  Also, have you ever noticed parallels between what happens in your stories and what happens in your own life?

Setting Reflects Character Reflects Setting (Part II)

14 Sep

Late post today!

So last week I left off with the question: how can the words you choose to describe your characters and their surroundings work to your advantage so that the setting becomes not just a prop but a tool for complementing, amplifying or providing contrast to your characters?

Then I started writing an answer and it got really long (happens sometimes)…and I’m like, “Screw this.  Let’s keep things short.”

-er.

So here’s the short answer:

Draw From Elements of Setting to Demonstrate Aspects of Character

That’s basically what it comes down to.

Now for the explanation.

Imagine there’s this character…

…a young woman.  She’s having a moment of calm but it could be ruined at any moment because she’s avoiding some task that needs to be done but refuses to do it because it only confirms some truth she doesn’t want to acknowledge.  The reason she’s focusing on being calm is not only to avoid this thing but also because she believes she’s in a hopeless situation that’s only getting worse, and she’s doing her best to ignore this and wants to believe there is some hope left for her.  Even if she’s not sure how this is possible yet.

So we have a set up.  Vague as it might be.  (Feel free to fill in the particulars with your imagination.)

We also already have some strong emotions and states of mind we can play off of: calmness, peace, fear, guilt, denial, hopelessness, maybe even some paranoia.  In order to contribute to the overall mood of this situation, then, it would make sense (to me, anyway) to choose words and focus on things that inherently evoke or hint at these emotions, even when it comes down to painting the picture of the setting.

Maybe our protagonist finds gentle breezes to be soothing.  Maybe she equates being still with being at peace, so she isn’t really doing anything at the moment except for sitting in her kitchen, at a table perhaps, and listening to the curtains rustle in the wind at an open window.

Introducing the emotional elements through the setting can help the reader feel the quality of calmness and serenity that the protagonist longs to experience herself.

So let’s say now she closes her eyes, enjoying the moment…

But things are too laid-back now.  We need some contrast here.

To bring in the guilt, our protagonist needs to be reminded of what she’s been putting off, so maybe she becomes aware of a clock ticking off in the distance now.  The notion of time is unwantedly drilled into her mind, reminding her of that-thing-left-to-do and making her paranoid.  Yet she denies this by picking up the newspaper, perhaps, focusing on it instead.  Though, even this holds reminders of hopelessness: stories of the unfortunate and tragic accidents.  Lurid, sensational news.

She tosses the paper aside, frustrated.

Again, she listens to the clock and is paralyzed by its incessant, unchanging rhythm.

Eventually she’s able to fix her gaze onto some tulips sitting in a vase upon the table, just beginning to bloom.  They remind her of pleasant, happy things.  A symbol of new life and new beginnings…something she may never have.

Then someone pounds on the front door, giving her a start.  Her body tenses because suddenly she realizes it’s too late to do the thing she’s been avoiding, and now she could definitely be in trouble for it.

~

Obviously the protagonist has got to face the thing she’s avoiding sometime.  Though, by providing atmospheric context that supports the character’s situation, you can make connections between character and setting in a way that builds tension and enhances the moment, leading up to the point where a dramatic shift takes place.

Not always ideal for handling every situation in a story, but it’s one way of doing things.  I’m sure there are plenty of other methods.

What are some of the ways you connect characters with settings in your stories?

Story & Music

30 Mar

I played the viola in my schools’ orchestras up until I auditioned and played in my first semester of college, when I came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t cut out for “pro” performance (that is a whole other ball game, folks).  Still, this has influenced me greatly, along with playing piano for fun.  I’m always listening for musical qualities and patterns in things, even in something as simple as a birds chirping or something as abstract as how an object rings when it is struck, or the notes that can be played by blowing across a bottle’s opening.  (I could tell you what note it approximately hums at; my friend used to say it’s perfect pitch, but I don’t like the word “perfect,” heh.)

In any case, I can’t tell you how much I am inspired by music.  I believe it affects my writing.

Music in Movies

When I watch a movie I often judge its quality in part by its soundtrack because that, too, comes with the package.  Sometimes I think the music causes a movie to reach a level of transcendence that it may not have reached were it left to the movie script, actors, effects, or the other elements of a film.  The music is so special that it causes the viewer overlook some of the movie’s flaws, just for the pleasure of getting caught up in the atmosphere that is established by the soundtrack.

I have two examples of where I think this has happened.  The first is in M. Night Shayamalan’s The Village:

Do you recall the score?  It was utterly gorgeous.  And the funny thing was that in spite of its undeniable beauty, it felt incredibly understated in the movie!  Which is fine because I don’t think a soundtrack should ever overpower what is happening in the film; it should complement and augment it, but if it’s the only thing going for a movie…well, you get the idea.

For me, the soundtrack for The Village is like a girl, or a woman, who privately is aware of her beauty but never calls attention to it.  There’s such a modesty about it, despite its grandeurIt’s also very haunting, which contributed to the mystery/thriller element of the movie.

I think the violin in this soundtrack represents the theme of the preciousness of innocence, which is personified by Ivy, played by the lovely Bryce Dallas Howard.  It also represents hope.

Though it is much simpler, I think the soundtrack for The Adjustment Bureau, composed by Thomas Newman, did a similar thing for that movie:

There’s just something very surreal and magical about this particular track around 0:39, but it fits the scene from the movie perfectly.  At this particular spot Matt Damon’s character, David, is watching a woman named Elise, played by Emily Blunt, dance in a performance with her studio.  (The movements in their dance could also be described as surreal.  Very atmospheric.  It was an unusual stage set-up they performed on, as well.  At least for me.)  It’s a very simple scene, but for some reason it struck me as very special.

You have to understand the nature of their relationship for the beauty of this scene to make sense.  At first meet (in the men’s restroom, of all places), it is very clear there is something unique happening between Elise and David.  Elise herself has something very uncanny and fey-like about her.  When she and David are together, it is magic.

I think the one track above captures these qualities beautifully.  There’s another that picks up on the exotic, free-spirited nature of Elise, as well, if you’re interested:

 

I also think the soundtrack for Lust, Caution is another good example of how music can raise a movie to loftier heights and has some of the same themes of the other two movies I listed, but I won’t bombard you with more of the same stuff.  (I’ve got a whole list in my head!)

That’s great, Tiyana, but what does this have to do with writing?

Hold your horses, people!

Here’s my point: You can learn from music because like writing and film, music can be used to tell a story.  The mediums are quite different, though they can all come together splendidly.  The novel differs in that it is limited to the written word, of course, and perhaps also the cover design of the book if it is published.  Still, just as music can color a movie and add style, atmosphere and drama, so can the words you choose as you write your story.  Every word you use can help contribute a thematic punch to your work, if you let it.

From certain musical elements in The Village I derived the qualities of beauty, modesty, grandeur, innocence, hope and haunting(-ness, heh).  Some belong to the themes in this movie and others serve as motifs.  From The Adjustment Bureau I was left with the qualities of surreal, magical, special, uncanny, fey-like, exotic and free-spirited–all of which united to help create the overall atmosphere and flavor of this film.

Communicating theme, motif and style through music is more abstract a process than it is with writing, I think, but the same idea applies: Take cues from the context of your story–both on a micro (within scenes, sections and sentences) and marco level, and let the ideas and themes of your heart spill and bleed onto your manuscript.  Thread them through every fiber of your story.  Each idea and element in your work can be connected and tied in with the others, coming together in striking artistic resonance until you are no longer writing simply fiction but fiction with a palpable song, one that has a story to tell.  Over time, I think it gets easier to tell when a “wrong note” or chord is played, or when prose becomes flat and one-note.  It also gets easier to fix these things and add variation and complexity.

Sometimes I feel like the story is, at first, trapped within the mind of the author, in the vastness of the aether, and it is the writer’s duty to give them shape and form and set them free.  Words are the writer’s instruments, and they are begging to be played!

What kind of song does your novel/story sing?

If your current work in progress were a song, how would you describe it?  Which words best evoke the pictures and themes you’d like for others to envision as they read it?  What qualities to do wish for them to experience?  You can name them in a list, if you want, such as the following:

Wonder.
Fear.
Magic.
Uncertainty.

Mystery.
Hope.
Justice.
Injustice.

War.
Peace.
Possibility.
Understanding.
Ignorance.

Maybe yours is shorter; maybe it’s longer.  Regular sentences work just fine, too!

The Importance of Setting

9 Mar

 

From Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Oh look, I’m using an image today–yay!  (Usually I just don’t feel like doing the whole free-image-search-attribution deal.  Indolence!)

Okay, so here’s a thing I could probably lose entire months getting lost in: worldbuilding.

But first, let’s talk about setting.  (Aaaaaawww…)

Setting is important.  It is where your story takes place. (Really?!) It also refers to the time frame during which the story unfolds.  Without setting, your characters, and your readers, have no frame of reference, no context from which a “story” may even be derived.  No grounds for constructing a meaningful experience upon.

Place.  Time.  Context.  Together, they help to create story orientation.  (I just got this image of a Captain Planet-like team putting their superpowered rings of storytelling together in a big circle, declaring, “Concept, plot, character, setting, theme…Story!” [Insert bubbly, make-believe theme song here.])

Setting can be as ordinary as a barber shop somewhere in a post-WWII American town or as outlandish as an alien planet where gargantuan, mobile, carnivorous plant species coexist with the indigenous lavender-skinned humanoids with sweat glands that secrete a natural repellent, making them inherently “unappetizing” to their feisty plant denizens.

Of course, perhaps for your protagonist that little barber shop doesn’t seem so ordinary anymore after he inadvertently (it seems) discovers a small, odd-looking chest hidden beneath some floor boards, locked by a key of unknown whereabouts and origins; and perhaps those flesh-eating plants and that lavender skin are just as commonplace as the next pebble on the ground, though not so common as that new, benevolent yellow plant species that suddenly popped up in the forest this morning and seems to respond, out of tentative interest, to only one humanoid native in particular.  It all depends on the perspective of the characters you choose and the plot they’re involved in.  All these things are dependent upon one another.

And that is the beauty of story.

However usual or unusual your setting may be, I firmly believe that it must be unique to the story being told.  If it doesn’t make a hill-of-beans difference whether Mary discovers herself in Plano, Texas or on the Moon, then perhaps that writer has got a bit of story-soul-searching to do.  A setting that does not participate with its characters, plots and themes, or has no connection to the other elements of the story, is just an inconsequential place setting at which the writer may be left alone to dine.  And maybe you don’t believe this to be true in real life, but wouldn’t you say that in every great story all things happen for a reason?  That nothing–no detail of setting or plot or character or anything else–is ever left to chance?

Think about it.  Would Jane Eyre’s story be the same if it were set in modern-day England?  Would the tales of Jedi Knights be nearly as epic were they placed on a single planet during a time in which space travel was not yet possible?  I should think not.

It’s All In the Details

In my current WIP the elements of earth, metal, wood, water, fire, air and aether/void play a tremendous role in the overall color and flavor of the story.  Not only are they the categories for elemental powers used by some of my characters but also personality types.  I’ll use word associations that are evocative of the elements to describe my characters, according to whichever element I’ve linked them to.

For example, my protagonist Voi is linked to the element of air.  Her entire way of being, even some of her thought processes, mimic or relate to the characteristics of air–a passion for air travel, for example, and a tendency towards flightiness, even a fickle and child-like nature.  Now, not everything she does is filtered through this one element, however, because people in real life aren’t one dimensional like that, but I do make it a point to carry out the personification of the elements through my character’s actions.

(I definitely think this has the potential to get pretty hokey and cliché, depending on how it’s done, but that’s something I’ve had to work out in my own writing style.  The popular axiom of “show, don’t tell” is probably the easiest way, I think, to avoid this trap.  Showing Voi fleeing from situations rather than conveniently narrating the fact that she is, in fact, a sylph-like creature prone to capriciousness.  And so on and so forth…)

If God is in the details, and the author is virtually a story’s god, then why would he leave the setting (or any other story element, for that matter) to chance when ultimately he is in control?  Though, you also know what they say about the Devil fitting somewhere in there, too, so the moral of that story is: It’s not easy playing God for a day, or 365 of them, or however many days it takes you to write a novel (because let’s face it, this is what writers essentially do when they write, isn’t it?), though if you care about writing a quality story, then you’ll give every ounce of it its due amount of attention to detail.

Perhaps you are thinking now, “That’s some high talk…coming from an amateur.”

Look, I’m not saying I’m some master at all of this, ’cause I’m not.  Like any other art form, I think learning to tell a story with attention to detail is a continual practice, though I think it is important to do so and it is something I am actively pursuing to the best of my ability–barring the fact that I am not (yet) published.

[Obligatory Hiatus]

All right, all right, so by now you’ve probably realized that I like to write loooong-ish posts.  I’ve already written like a three-part series and just decided to chop it into pieces.  (Did I tell you that my manuscript at this moment is sitting at just under 200K words?  Um, yeah…I am seriously considering labeling it as an “epic fantasy,” at this point, though I’m not 100% sure if it belongs there.)  I’m verbose like that, and I really can’t help it.  Apparently, I’ve got a lot of freakin’ stuff to say.

I understand that people generally need to eat large beasts in small bites, though, so tomorrow I’m gonna post the rest of my thoughts.  (I don’t really want to get into the habit of posting in Parts I, II, III, etc. like I have already, twice, ’cause oddly I don’t really feel I have that kind of privilege.  Couldn’t exactly tell you why.)

But since we’ve come to this hiatus now…I’ve got some questions for you!

How important is the setting in your current work(s) of storytelling art?  How is it connected to the other elements of story–your characters, themes and the plot itself?  Is it something that’s more of a background element, or is it one of those things you want to showcase?  (Neither is it necessarily good or bad, I don’t think, though I am curious.  It probably depends a lot on your genre, too.)

Getting to Know Your Story (Part I)

16 Feb

So let’s say you’ve got this fantabulous idea for a novel, right.  So then the first step, naturally, would be to start writing about it.  Riiiiight?

Err…if you mean start writing the actual novel, then I’m afraid not.  I’ll explain why.

READ the INSTRUCTIONS FIRST.  Please.

I can be a real stubborn one.  I’m the kind of person that will purchase one of those self-assembled furniture pieces from places like Target and IKEA and refuse to read the instructions because I’m smart and can figure it out by myself, thank you very much.  My dad’s an engineer (electrical, actually).  Works in the aerospace industry.  I’m sure he passed down some of his figure-it-out mentality to me through the bloodline, even if it’s just a fraction.  Convicted of this, I set my mouth in a grim line and put those insulting pictorial instructions with those ridiculous smiling faces aside.

Of course, I usually end up regretting it later.  “What?  Where did that piece come from?”

Disassemble.  Insert missing piece.  Reassemble.  Scowl at own stupidity.  Smart, eh?

Shut up, I tell my snickering subconscious.  Shut the frak up.

*   *   *
Not surprisingly, I’ve taken a similar approach to writing.  I like to learn things the hard way, apparently.  Make mistakes.  Make a fool of myself.  Gain incredible insights along the way.

The latter is the greatest part, the part I never regret.  The same can be said for making some mistakes along the way, though a good number of the mistakes I’ve made probably could have been avoided.

Here’s where I’m going with this: There are instructors out there in this big wide world who have set aside time out of their daily bustling lives to provide useful tips, guidelines and storytelling commandments, either free of charge or for an affordable rate, to would-be writers who think they’ll have no trouble figuring it all out on their own by doing things their way.  (This page is proof.)  Writers like me.  And, perhaps, you.

I think it’s quite possible to figure it out all on your own, but if you’re not a very patient, dedicated, or disciplined person you’ll burnout long before you’ve even gotten a quarter of the way there.  Lucky for me, once I’ve dedicated myself to an endeavor I don’t quit easily, but I also don’t like floundering around like a fish out of water for long and will eventually turn to someone for help.  But only if I can’t figure it out by myself first.

Call it a character flaw, but I really do like to figure certain things out on my own.  There’s a sense of achievement that comes along with that.  I’m sure you’ve experienced this for yourself at one point or another.  You’d understand.

Okay, so maybe there’s stuff I should learn before attempting a novel.  So what?

If you’re not convinced you need to get yourself edumacated before you set out to start a novel with any hope of potential amongst other readers besides yourself, then I’m sorry; I can’t help you.  No one can.  If that’s what you want, to figure it out on your own, then more power to you.

On the other hand, if you are new to this writing thing, want to benefit from those who’ve been there and learn more about storytelling before you embark on the incredibly ambitious mission of writing a novel (or any story for that matter), then there are a few places you can start.

The first: remember that page I mentioned earlier, that orange link?  (At least I think it’s orange, unless you already visited it.)  That would be a good start.  Or, if you have a favorite author(s), why not check out his/her website or blog?  They might even have free writing tips to share with you.

There are also some books out there that you might want to consider.  If you’ve read some of my other posts, then you already know that I’m a biased writer in that my focus is on the fantasy genre.  With that said, there are a couple of books I’ve read and thought were helpful without them being limited to fantasy writers.

How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey was one.  It gives you some basic things to think about before you start pecking away on your keyboard, relentlessly churning out fiction into your poor word processor during ceaseless nights, and perhaps even, days.  (Sometimes you get that into it.)  The Key, by the same author, was also useful to me in understanding the archetypal Hero’s Journey and character types but also cliches, how to avoid them and how it’s possible to mix character roles to create more complex characters.  Also, check out Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.  It goes through the basics of how to put a coherent sentence together, but it also talks about how to appropriately use certain misused words and phrases like lie and lay.  Style and grammar all wrapped up into one.  It’s a good reference book–one I still like to thumb through.

…and that’s where my book-reading advice stops short.  Like I said, I am of the figure-it-out variety, so I didn’t read too many how-to books before I dived back into the process of writing.  Most of my research, when I hunkered down and did some, was actually done online.  However, if you prefer books to online articles or want to mix up your educational-things-to-read list, then there are many bookstores out there, online and in-person, that make it easy to search for instructional books and make personal judgements as to which ones might help you the most.  This is especially easy online, where you can also browse other reader’s reviews on books you’re interested in and read their takes on how helpful those books were/were not.  That’s personally my favorite way to go about purchasing books.

Alibris, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders are all great places to search.  I’m sure there are more out there, but those are the one’s I’ve tried.  (Amazon is probably my fave. :D)

Learning about writing is a lot like homework in college: No one’s gonna keep looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re doing it.  Either you learn the material or you don’t.  That’s how I feel about it, anyway.  In essence, I think becoming a (creative) writer is just one of those do-it-yourself kinds of things.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t mentors out there who can give you pointers and advice along the way, though.

Now, to the Point.

Hm, this post is getting long, and I’ve barely brushed the titular topic!  You know what?  Here’s what I’m gonna do: Consider today Part I.  Tomorrow, I will post Part II.

“Soooooooound good?”

“Yes, sir!”

(Thinking of Inglourious Basterds there.)